Thursday, September 26, 2013

127.4 - Revelations of NSA spying: September

Revelations of NSA spying: September

Now we get to September, which brought news that the Qatar-based news agency al-Jazeera was targeted by the NSA, which hacked into al-Jazeera’s internal communications system. Apparently being an Arab news agency, even though it has become respected worldwide, was enough to make it suspicious to the NSA.

Remember what I said about how in August it came out that NSA has a secret backdoor into its vast databases, a loophole enabling it to search those databases for US citizens' email and phone calls without a warrant, that is, to target US citizens?

In September, it came out that in 2008, the FISC, the FISA Court, had specifically banned those sorts of searches - until the Obama administration convinced the court in 2011 to reverse those restrictions specifically to allow for those searches to be done, as they have been.

In addition, the court lengthened the time that the NSA is allowed to retain those communications from five years to six years - and even longer under some circumstances. And remember, this is being done under the color of a law specifically intended to target foreigners outside the US but may even refer to purely domestic communications supposedly gathered up "inadvertently" and which by rights shouldn't have been in those databases in the first place.

Government officials actually defend this, defend essentially throwing away the Fourth Amendment on the grounds that, to come to the nub of the argument, "Hey, if we got it, we can use it."

And don't think encrypting your communications is going to protect you. Early this month, the NY Times reported that
[t]he National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age.
Global commerce and banking systems, trade secrets, medical records, e-mails, web searches, Internet chats, phone calls - none of it is safe or secure.

Indeed, the German newspaper Der Spiegel reported in mid-September that the NSA has set up its own financial database to track money flows through a "tailored access operations" division which widely monitors international payments, banking and credit card transactions.

The spying is conducted by a branch called "Follow the Money." The collected information flows into the NSA's financial databank, called "Tracfin," which in 2011 contained 180 million records, some 84 percent of which is from credit card transactions focused on customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This is another case where it's not supposed to affect US citizens but may well anyway, especially because another specified target of the agency is SWIFT, a worldwide network used by thousands of banks to make transactions securely. Apparently, wanting your financial transactions to be secure and remain personal is, like everything else, suspicious in the eyes of the spies.

And even if it doesn't affect Americans, it still makes mincemeat out of the claim that the whole spying apparatus is designed to "target" "foreign" "terrorists." On the other hand, "target" already has its new definition, and it has long been clear that "terrorist" is, to put it mildly, a rather flexible term. Maybe "foreign" also has its own strange usage we hadn't previously been aware of.

Many internet users assume that their data is safe, and the NSA wants to keep it that way. The agency treats its success in deciphering protected information, which is done under a classified program code-named Bullrun, as one of its most closely guarded secrets.

It especially doesn't want you to know about its covert measures to ensure its control over international encryption standards, up to and including collaboration with technology companies and internet service providers themselves, through which the agency has them insert backdoors into commercial encryption software, by which the agency can simply evade any protections that the software supposedly offers. Ordinary users, tellingly referred to in the documents as "adversaries," are not even supposed to know such backdoors exist.

To show you how important this is to the spies, funding for this program is more than 12 times that of the PRISM program that monitors our internet usage. By the way, none of the companies involved in privacy-busting partnerships are named; those details are even more highly classified than the program itself.

One last thing for now, one other thing the government really, really, doesn't want you to know but which we learned about in September is that the US routinely turns over raw intelligence data to Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens. This despite all the indignant assurances of rigorous safeguards to protect the privacy of US citizens whose data is swept up in the NSA nets, which apparently are simply bold-faced lies, at least when it comes to dealings with Israel.

And Israel can do whatever it damn well pleases with this information; the agreement specifically says that it
is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an international agreement or a legally binding instrument according to international law.
So Israel can use this data as it pleases - with one exception, a quite revealing one: The agreement requires the Israelis to "destroy upon recognition" any communication "that is either to or from an official of the US government," including "officials of the executive branch (including the White House, cabinet departments, and independent agencies), the US House of Representatives and Senate (member and staff) and the US federal court system (including, but not limited to, the supreme court)."

The Guardian pointedly notes that it's not clear "how or why the NSA would be in possession of such communications," but what is clear is that the government is saying its communications must remain private and protected while yours must be open to prying eyes.

I've said before that the goal here, a goal eagerly embraced and vigorously pursued by the Obama gang, is for them to know more and more about us while we know less and less about them.

Next week I intend to talk about some of the lame defenses of all this and the vacuous "reforms" suggested by the Amazing Mr. O.


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